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Ben Stokes to captain England as Joe Root misses first West Indies Test

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Ben Stokes will captain England for the first time in the first Test against West Indies starting next week.

Joe Root, England’s permanent red-ball captain, will miss the first Test and Wednesday’s warm-up match to attend the birth of his second child. Root’s wife, Carrie, is due to give birth later this week.

The ECB confirmed that Root will have to self-isolate for seven days at home once he leaves hospital with his family. He is expected to be available for the second Test of the series, which starts at Emirates Old Trafford on July 16, and will join up with the squad at the ground on July 13.

ALSO READ: Stokes promises to take ‘positive route’ as captain

Stokes said in a virtual press conference that he will look to take the “positive route” as captain, and Root has previously backed him for the role, saying that he would be “fantastic” at leading the Test team.

Stokes is likely to become England’s least-experienced captain in their history, never having captained a first-class, List A or T20 game in his career. According to the Times, the only other man to captain England in Test cricket in the last 50 years without having captained in a first-class game was Kevin Pietersen, who had previously led in an ODI.

Stokes admitted on Monday that he was “not one of those people you would necessarily think of as the next England captain”. He was initially awarded the vice-captaincy in 2016 before losing the role a year later following his involvement in the Bristol incident that overshadowed the 2017-18 Ashes series. He won the role back ahead of last year’s Ashes series after reaching out to Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, following the World Cup final.

Jos Buttler will be Stokes’ vice-captain, in a move that hints he will take the wicketkeeping gloves in the first Test, and the pair will each lead one side in tomorrow’s warm-up game.

Confirmation that Root will miss the first Test leaves England with an interesting selection dilemma. Dom Sibley and Rory Burns are expected to open the batting, but Zak Crawley and Joe Denly had seemed to be competing for one spot at No. 3. Root’s absence could mean both play, or that there is an opportunity for Dan Lawrence to bat at No. 4. Alternatively, either Ollie Pope or Stokes himself could move up to No. 4, opening up a spot in the middle order for Jonny Bairstow.



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The kings of the Dukes ball and how it wasn’t all bad for spin

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The Sheffield Shield season of two halves is over, at least for now. Cricket Australia has announced the Kookaburra ball would be used throughout the competition rather than the Dukes coming into play for latter part of the tournament after the Big Bash.

The Dukes has been in use since 2016-17, with the primary aim of giving Australian players more practice against the type of ball (although a modified version) that had often troubled them for a decade in England. Last year, the Ashes was retained in England for the first time since 2001 so, in that sense, the plan had come together although it hadn’t always enjoyed rave reviews on the domestic circuit.

But who fared best when it was in play? We take a look at some of the numbers from the last four years of the Shield.

In the runs

Victoria opener Marcus Harris, who played the last three Tests of the Ashes, is the top run-scorer against the Dukes ball. The form that earned Matthew Wade a recall for that tour is highlighted by his numbers – including a Dukes average of 59.38 – while Marnus Labuschagne’s far more mundane numbers highlight the speed of his development over the last 12 months where he’s scored runs against anything. New South Wales’ Daniel Hughes is again highlighted as one of the most consistent players in the Shield while Nic Maddinson‘s prolific form in the last two seasons is reflected.

In terms of the difference between the top 15 run-scorers against the Dukes and their Kookaburra record, Ed Cowan, who retired in 2018, has the biggest swing and could lay claim to being the king of Dukes batting. Matt Renshaw, who has slipped well down the Test pecking order, also has an outstanding return as does Hilton Cartwright despite the last two seasons being much more of a struggle.

Overall, the batting average against the Dukes was 27.44 compared to 30.05 against the Kookaburra.

In the wickets

The bowling list is unsurprisingly dominated by the seamers, although that is likely more a reflection of overall Sheffield Shield cricket over recent years than specifically the ball (more on that in a moment). The returns reinforce why Michael Neser and Peter Siddle were part of the Ashes squad and plenty of others in the table were in the debate ahead of that tour. James Pattinson‘s Dukes average of 14.92 is eye-catching.

Of those in the top 15 wicket-takers with the Dukes, Nick Winter, the left-armer from South Australia, has the biggest difference in the average in favour of that ball compared to the Kookaburra closely followed by Western Australia’s David Moody. The one spinner to make the list, Victoria’s left-armer Jon Holland, has similar figures with both.

In a spin

It’s the spin numbers overall that are interesting to look at, given the talk of the health of spin bowling (beyond Nathan Lyon) in Australian first-class cricket. Bringing spin more into the game was mentioned in the Cricket Australia release about moving back to Kookaburra all season.

In fact, over the last four seasons, spin has taken wickets at five runs fewer with the Dukes than the Kookaburra. And, if you compare it to the three seasons prior to when the different types of balls were used, the Dukes average is three runs better off with spin averaging 38.36 from 2013-14 to 2015-16. However, what is very noticeable is the reducing number of overs bowled by spinners in those four seasons even taking into account last season was truncated by four games due to Covid-19.

There are spinners, not least Shane Warne, who have said how the Dukes is a better ball for the art. It would appear more needs to change in Australian domestic cricket than just the ball to revive the fortune of spinners.



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Recent Match Report – Team Buttler vs Team Stokes Warm Up 2020

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Team Stokes 233 (Crawley 43, Robinson 2-7) lead Team Buttler 287 for 5 dec by 54 runs

England allrounder Sam Curran is awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test after being placed in self-isolation at the Ageas Bowl, casting a shadow over the second day of the intra-squad clash.

On the pitch, the battle for bowling places intensified as Jos Buttler’s team, who declared on their day one score of 287 for 5, dismissed Ben Stokes’ side for 233 at stumps.

Buttler’s hand was strengthened by Jofra Archer and Mark Wood‘s first-ever appearance together in red-ball cricket and the pair offered a promising glimpse of what they might be capable of in tandem.

Injury has kept the country’s quickest bowlers apart since both played key roles in England’s World Cup victory last year, but midway through the morning session they teamed up for a promising eight-over spell that cost just seven runs and yielded the wicket of opener Dom Sibley for 12.

Archer banked the scalp, caught behind flicking the ball down leg-side, but the pair hunted together to unsettle Sibley with pacey short-pitched bowling. Wood might just as easily have been the one celebrating moments earlier, forcing Sibley to fend awkwardly to Ollie Pope, who squandered the chance at short leg.

Wood returned in the afternoon session to take Jonny Bairstow’s outside edge with the first ball of his second spell and finished with spotless figures of 1 for 14 from 11 overs, while Archer returned 2 for 37 after adding Ben Foakes for 38. He received treatment for sore feet late on, understood to be a result of wearing new bowling boots, and was replaced by Surrey’s Amar Virdi – the 29th player involved in the match.

Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson also offered a reminder of his skills, bowling with precision as he accounted for Moeen Ali and Lewis Gregory in a double-wicket maiden.

Stuart Broad could find himself vulnerable to the growing competition, with the fetching white bandana he wore over his lockdown hair more eye-catching than his figures of 0 for 42.

Moeen’s dismissal, lbw for 5, followed a peripheral role with the ball on Wednesday and his hopes of a first Test appearance in a year appear to be receding. Instead, Dom Bess is well placed to hold his place in the side. He bowled more tightly than either Moeen or Jack Leach managed on Wednesday and took a key wicket when he had Keaton Jennings caught at slip before lunch.

Zak Crawley top-scored with 43, a positive innings strewn with neat drives, before he nicked Chris Woakes – yet another able seamer vying for attention. Stokes made his way to 41, and doled out Bess’ only real punishment when he launched him for six and four in the same over, before he was stumped charging Matt Parkinson.



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Dom Bess leads as spinners turn up in force for England warm-up

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It is hard to remember an occasion when England have gone into their first Test of the home summer with five different spinners all pitching a case for inclusion in the side, but these are unprecedented times.

England’s spin cadre have worked closely with Richard Dawson in the nets over the past week, and all have had the opportunity to bowl in this week’s intra-squad warm-up match.

Amar Virdi looks the least likely to play at the Ageas Bowl next week, having been parachuted into Team Buttler at the last minute when Sam Curran went down with a suspected diarrhoea and vomiting bug, while Matt Parkinson‘s relative inexperience may count against him, despite him luring Ben Stokes into a false shot on the stroke of tea on Thursday to have him stumped.

That leaves Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach: all three of them fingerspinners, with similar batting returns in recent years despite Moeen’s greater pedigree. All three have strong claims to the role, but it appeared instructive that it took 68 overs for Moeen to be brought into the attack on the first afternoon. When he did come on, newcomer Dan Lawrence found it easy to knock him about, and a 27-ball 5 on the second day did little to further his case.

Seemingly, then, England have a choice next week between Leach and Bess, the Somerset team-mates: the former was first-choice going into the winter before his various illnesses, while the latter took his unlikely opportunity with both hands in South Africa.

In this warm-up match, it has been Bess who has impressed more. Leach went wicketless across 15 first-innings overs while Bess took two in his 20 on Thursday; Leach also conceded 3.8 runs per over compared to Bess’ 3.0, and bowled one maiden compared to Bess’ six.

But the make-up of the West Indies batting line-up poses an interesting conundrum, given that there are 13 right-handers and only two left-handers in their 15-man squad. One of those lefties, Raymon Reifer, looks unlikely to play the first Test, while John Campbell is an opening batsman, whom England will hope to dismiss before the spinners come on.

It may be a simplification to look at fingerspinners only through the lens of whether they turn the ball into or away from a batsman, but raw statistics help illustrate the point. Across the last five English Test summers, offspinners average significantly more bowling to right-handers (37.58) than left (28.38), while the disparity is only slightly smaller among slow left-armers (36.42 to left-handers, 30.87 to right-handers).

What’s more, the players in West Indies’ middle order that a spinner may well be relied upon to dismiss have substantially better records against offspinners than slow left-armers, in particular the engine room of Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich.

Bess played the issue down in his close-of-play press conference on Thursday evening, saying that he was comfortable bowling to whoever he needed to. He cited Moeen’s five-wicket haul at the Ageas Bowl against India in 2018 as evidence that it would not be a major issue – though with left-armer Curran self-isolating, it seems unlikely that there will be as many footholes created outside the right-handers’ off stump this time around.

“It’s funny, you talk about right-handers and left-handers, but a good offspinner or a good spinner is going to take wickets no matter what,” Bess said. “You’ve got to be threatening on the inside or the outside edge.

“I know a couple of years ago at Hampshire, there were big footholes and Mo took a five-for down here with footholes to the right-handers, and I don’t see any difference. If you’re bowling well, you’ve got footholes there, you’re going to be challenging to a right-hander, let alone a left-hander. West Indies have obviously only got one leftie – I wouldn’t mind a couple more lefties, but I’m very happy bowling at right-handers as well.”

While Joe Denly, Ollie Pope and Lawrence had managed to milk Leach easily enough on the first day, Bess proved effective against right-handers on the second, tieing down Zak Crawley (who scored 9 off 17 balls against him) and Ben Foakes (8 off 32) in particular. In fact, most of the damage to his figures was done by left-handers in the shape of Stokes and his rival Leach, both of whom hit him for a pair of boundaries.

“It was a really good challenge today, bowling against Stokesy,” Bess said. “I thought I genuinely did him on one of them, and he just somehow on the up hit it over extra cover for six. I was just thinking: this is why he’s probably one of the best in the world – [he was] absolutely nowhere near it and he still middled it for six.

“After such a long time off and doing so much this winter on it, I was a little bit nervous coming back into it. So I really wanted to make sure I nailed down those fundamentals and actually put myself in the best situation. But I’m really happy with how it’s coming out at the moment.”

ALSO READ: Warwickshire sizing up move for Bess

And regardless who England choose, it demonstrates a level of spin depth that has not been seen for several years that there is even a debate around the spot. “It would be quite an achievement [to be selected],” Bess said, “so with that it brings a lot of responsibility to make sure that actually I’m still bowling the best I can. I want to push for that spot and make it my own. That’s normal, because if you’re in our position, you want to be making that first XI, and we’ve got amazing competition.”

To add one final flavour to the situation, counties have begun to declare their interest in Bess in a development that could end the impasse that has come about at Somerset, where Leach is the first-choice spinner.

But Bess insisted that there was “no spitefulness or anything like that” among the spin group. “We help each other, we’re looking to improve each other,” he said. “It’s really nice to see Mo again and learn off him. We’ve got Parky as well who I’m really close with, Leachy I’m really close with, [and] Virds I’ve been on a lot of tours with. For that whole group, it’s great for us to intertwine with each other, chat about spin, and be back with a group of lads playing cricket.”



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